Designing the Cutting Garden

annual flowers for bouquets

Classic ‘Cutting Garden’ flowers

Much of our gardening business work is designing residential ‘cottage’ style gardens. When we meet with new clients, we ask them to complete a four page questionairre, which provides detailed questions about their color preferences, allergies, lifestyle, as well as some multiple choice questions about their “dream garden”. One of these questions asks if the client would like a ‘Cutting Garden’ and this bears a footnote explaining what a ‘Cutting Garden’ is. ” A cutting garden is a garden area, arranged much like a vegetable garden, but the crop is flowers, with the purpose of providing material for floral arrangements. These are usually planted in rows to facilitate hoeing and weeding, as well as to accommodate effective staking configurations.”

Eight out ten times, the client writes YES, however, after all these years, we have only installed one cutting garden for a client. I suppose that when folks figure out that a cutting garden is somewhat labor intensive, not quite as labor intensive as a vegetable garden, but close enough, it discourages would be floral arrangers, from having one. It’s a shame, really, because, where a kitchen garden feeds the body, a cutting garden feeds the soul.

Why a separate ‘Cutting Garden’, people ask. Why not just tiptoe into your cottage garden or perennial border with a pair of secateurs and harvest some flowers for the house? Well, yes, many people do this, and if you have a very large garden it is an option, however, you’ll deprive the ‘borders’ of some of their floral beauty, and, anyway, many of the lovely bouquets you see at Farmer’s Markets, and particularly those that be associate with ‘Summer’ are composed of classic cutting garden plants, which are annuals; Larkspur, Cosmos, Dahlias, Zinnias, China Asters, Statice, Sunflowers, Bells of Ireland, and these need to be planted every year, which would mean leaving plenty of blank spaces in your perennial borders for the planting of annuals. Furthermore, that means leaving ‘open-ground’, that is, ground that is not mulched (the seeds won’t emerge from mulch) and this introduces some very nit-picky weeding. No. In my mind, it’s more efficient to have a dedicated cutting garden, and it’s easily done

Designing a Cutting Garden requires no greater skills or horticultural knowledge than common sense and a ‘back of the seed packet’ familiarity with the plants one wants to grow. Here at Stonewell Farm, we plan the cutting garden with rows that are running on a North-South axis. This way, the rows will all receive as much East-West sunlight as possible. This can get a little tricky if you’re growing very tall sunflowers, for instance, in which case, its best to plant them in a quadrant of their own so that they won’t cast too much shade on their neighbors. That said, we try to keep plants of similar heights in rows close together.

Classic Cutting Garden Plants:

richly colored dahlias

With blooms in nearly unlimited shapes, sizes, and colors, dahlias are the essence of a late summer bouquet.








glorious gladiolas

Gladiolas are ‘hip’ again, . There’s nothing dowdy or grim about these tall beauties, that shine in an arrangement.


colorful china asters

Few flowers are as cheerful and exuberant in an arrangement as China Asters in summer.

colorful larkspur

The annual Larkspur, Consolida ambigua, is so fresh, elegant and poetic, that it’s worth the extra effort to get these seeds into the ground early, when the soil is about 55 degrees F.


What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias.  All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called 'cactus-flowered' types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!

What makes you glad to be alive? Zinnias. All the colors of the rainbow, (except blue) and with the so-called ‘cactus-flowered’ types as well, nothing could be simpler to grow than these horticultural twins of Prozac!




Jam a few sunflowers into a cheap vase and it looks like a million bucks! Here, the goldfinches get to them before we do, but then, what’s the downside? Goldfinches and sunflowers is a win-win, here at Stonewell Farm.


Confessions of a Heretic; Annuals in the Perennial Garden

A few years ago I would have been a rather harsh judge of folks who planted annuals in the perennial border. I would have classed them in the category of those who add sugar to their tomato sauce or Miracle Whip to their potato salad. Basically, it struck me as a sort of ‘cheap trick’. That’s all changed. Not only do I now include annuals in the perennial border, but, I celebtate them. (By the way, I’ve no longer any qualms about adding vinegar and sweetener (agave syrup, perhaps?) to a potato salad, essentially creating homemade ‘Miracle Whip’.) Pardon me, I digress.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I experienced the change of heart regarding annuals. It might have occured while I was admiring the ebulliant, effusive quality of the cutting garden one August day. Likely, I was comparing it, and the diversity of color, form shape, growth habit of its inhabitants, to the drab, tired, waning shades of green in the perennial borders with only rudbeckia (bright gold), perovskia (hazy blue), caryopteris (hazy blue) to do the heavy lifting. The cutting garden, on the other hand, who’s job was to provide blooms to adorn our interiors, was flowering away, with wild enthusiasm, Multi-colored dahlias, multi-hued zinnias, cosmos in shades of white, pink and vermillion, china asters in fresh pinks and magentas with sunny, yellow eyes, Bells of Ireland, with vibrant, spring green stalks, tall, African Marigolds in egg yolk, lemon, and acid yellow, drifts of lush, pink, white and carmine larkspur, robust mounds of signet marigolds, deliciously fragrant and edible. (I love to weed around these….it is PURE aromatherapy, and I’m not kidding!)

What changed? Did  I leap over to the other side, from dogmatist to pragmatist. Maybe. In retrospect, I think the artist that I am, imagined a peace treaty and a trade agreement with horticulture. This is an uptight way of saying that I embraced an “all-in” philosophy of  garden design. Does it add an expense? Sure. Is it worth it? Yes.

For clients, incorporating annuals into their perennial borders, can be  an added expense that is not always welcome, and, of course, it’s not essential, but it can extend the beauty and pleasure of the garden tremendously.